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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Reason and the Faithful Epistemology

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

The Temple of Reason, French Revolution

During the French Revolution "reason" became a religion that was seen as the replacement for Christianity. Reason was idolized as cathedrals were converted into temples of reason, as if it were this magical notion by which all reality can be known. This is not a crazy notion. The pursuit of rational explanation and the scientific method that resulted from it has advanced our world in countless ways. However, many today continue to ignorantly idolize reason without ever asking themselves: What is reason? Does it have limits?

Slippery Definitions

One of the first challenges when discussing reason is defining what it is that you are discussing. Often, people will simply claim something is unreasonable if they don't think it's true or if it just does not meet their preferences. So let's explore the dictionary definition.

Reason: - a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event - the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. (Oxford Dictionary)

With this in mind I would like to simplify this and define "reason" for our purposes here as:

Reason: The justification of an explanation by the process of logic.

Logic is a science unto itself and from it we derive that if something violates the laws of logic (like 2+2=5, or John was a married bachelor), that it is not true. A person who is unwilling to grant this should be ignored as rational interaction is not even possible. The rules of reason (IE the expectation that someone will provide reasons and accompanying logic) are what allow people to interact and exchange knowledge. However, we should keep in mind that the game is not so simple. We are human beings, not calculators and that alters how we are to think about how reason plays out in real life.

Data and Logic

As sentient beings, we interact with the world around us. This leads to two things happening.

1) Data is taken in

2) Data is interpreted.

Step 2 is where the science of logic is extremely useful and precise. Here is an example.

Premise 1: All elephants have big ears.

Premise 2: Some animals are elephants.

Conclusion: Therefore, some animals have big ears.

The premises here are the data that was taken in, it is then processed in such a way to create a logical conclusion. But let's see how this can fail.

Premise 1: John has long hair.

Premise 2: Only women have long hair

Conclusion: John is a woman.

The example above is logically valid (meaning it follows the rules of logic) but it is not true (aka sound) because premise 2 is false. This is how someone can be reasonable and logical but still be mistaken. In the end, we want the truth not just what conforms to the laws of logic.

Truth: that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality (Oxford Dictionary)

The problem of perception

This presents an interesting problem. Reality itself is perceived through us and we don't all agree on what we perceive. In other words, we don't all agree on what data is legitimate data to be entered into our logical processes. Much of the data we utilize is subjective or extremely hard to manifest in an objective sense. I would even argue that our faculty of reason itself seems to be based on a deeper intuition that recognizes and values consistency and symmetry. From a Darwinian perspective, this would have to be the case and to complicate matters, our faculties of reason would evolve to manifest that which propagates survival, regardless of if it was true or not (but I digress).

The point is that reality is being perceived through a wide variety of minds/senses and in the end, we can't seem to agree about the depth or details of the reality we experience. Yes, there is much that can objectively be shown and reasonably concluded and our world is better for those massive gains in knowledge. However, we must admit that we likely are not able to take in all the necessary data and we certainly disagree about what data should be considered valid for entry into our logical processes. I believe that is not because reality is in flux, but because we are.

It is my experience and belief that reality is far more complex than simple matter in motion and for us to gather the necessary data on the full scope of reality we must expand the tools at our disposal to gather data. Christians believe that neither our minds nor our physical senses are even capable of fully understanding the depth of the reality that surrounds us and acquiring this "spiritual knowledge" of these deeper things has been central to the Christian message from the start.

"But as it is written, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.' But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God...Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."- Paul in his letter to the Corinthians.

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I am?....And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Matt:16:13-16

"Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. "- Jacob 4:13.13

Coming to know a deeper reality

The Christian call is to go beyond the physical and tap into the senses imbedded in our consciousness and even our very souls. These are the senses that perceive joy, love, meaning, purpose, and peace. Are these things not real? These are the needs that we most wish to satisfy. In fact, you will find that most everyone lives every moment of every day trying to satisfy, not their physical needs but these deeper needs of the soul and are even willing to neglect the physical needs to get them.

Another thing to keep in mind is the difference in the types of knowledge one can acquire. Rational discussion acts on the mind, spiritual witness acts on a deeper part of us. In Spanish and many other languages the verb "to know" is divided into two words. "Saber" is to know something with your mind, to "Conocer" is to know something on a more personal, intimate level. I may be able to write an essay on love because of what I know (saber), but when I hold my dying child in my arms I know (conocer) what love is in a very different way. In the Spanish translations, Christ said life eternal was to know (conocer) God. Rational discussion happens in the realm of "saber" where spiritual knowledge is gleaned in the realm of "conocer".

Reason and rational debate is certainly a great tool for understanding a great portion of the reality that surrounds us. The deeper question is what faculties mankind has available to understand the fullness of the reality that surrounds us. Are subjective experiences just fantasy? Is our moral compass just some whim of a delusional mind? I believe we have been endowed with tools to help us understand reality via our minds (reason), body (senses), and our spirit (conscience) and anyone who hails one of these areas as supreme ignores the self evident reality of the others and I believe sells themselves short of a deeper understanding of the reality that surrounds them. It is as if we have "eyes to see" deeper into reality and these eyes work together to paint a more full picture yet some close all eyes but one. Indeed, the root of my personal epistemology is based on using the right tools to gather the relevant data for the proper realms and then use the power of reason to process that data in order to arrive at the truth. Perhaps those who see reason as the ultimate, or even the only tool, are walking through life with one eye closed.

"In other words, if you want to recognize spiritual truth, you have to use the right instruments. You can’t come to an understanding of spiritual truth with instruments that are unable to detect it." - Elder Uchtdorf

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